Move Over, Mornington Peninsula And Yarra Valley: Visiting Victoria’s Other Wine Region
While the Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula have long dominated the Victorian winemaking scene, a tiny region not far from Bendigo is punching well above its weight with quality wine and incredible produce.
The Strathbogie Ranges in the Great Dividing Range, roughly 150km north-east from Melbourne’s CBD, is possibly one of Victoria’s least-known and most underrated wine regions.
“We’re so close to Melbourne yet feels like a million miles away,” says vigneron, farmer, restaurateur and game food aficionado Matt Fowles, co-owner of Fowles Wine.
“You can drive right through our region and not even hit a bitumen road. I love the juxtaposition of everything rural with the best Melbourne can offer in terms of food and wine. It’s a really special place.”
Famous for its Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch range, Fowles Wine is just near Seymour in Avenel. It recently opened a renovated cellar door modelled on the quintessential Aussie shed and using upcycled materials. Think galvanised corrugated ceilings, reminiscent of the humble sheering shed.
Fowles says he wanted to incorporate disused objects from around Victorian farms that would otherwise have ended up in landfill. “We have been on an amazing journey across the Victorian countryside sourcing objects,” he says.
For instance, a 90-year-old rusty fence has been used to create 36 rolled fencing-wire light features in the Wine Shed function space, while disused old hard wood droppers, piled up under the shade of the gums beside the vines, have been repurposed as restaurant tables. “It’s been a fun and very creative journey for us all,” says Fowles.
With interior designer Jay Phillips, Fowles also scoured Victoria to find vintage sinks “like what our Grandmothers used to wash their clothes in”, which have been repurposed as vanities in the bathrooms. One was sourced from a collapsed gold miners’ pit in Warrandyte, another from a horse paddock in Macedon and another from the Dandenong Ranges.
“The venue needed a place where people could relax and enjoy the space, much like shearers, who, after returning from a hard days’ work on the farm, would generally collapse on the wool bails and enjoy a drink or two,” Phillips says.
It’s that rustic, country feel that makes the region so special. And the quality of its soil that gives it an edge over Mornington Peninsula and the Yarra Valley. “The soil comes from decomposed ancient granite and is very nutrient-poor which means the vines have to work really hard to create the grapes that make the wine,” he says.
“We also have warm days and cool nights which lead to a gradual ripening. So our grapes are really intense – like our produce. Yarra and Mornington are different.
“The Strathbogie Ranges are relatively new in winemaking terms, despite winning many of the best awards in Australia. Watch this space.”
Mills Spring Farm
Also worth visiting in the Strathbogie Ranges is Mills Spring Farm. Something about being out in the fresh country air that makes you appreciate a place like this even more.
The Farm is a biodynamic orchard growing everything from plums, cherries, apples, peaches and quinces. For about eight months of the year, they’re picking something delicious and you can buy directly from their picking shed during the spring and autumn months.
Located in nearby Nagambie, Mitchelton is likely one of the most well-known wineries in the region and for good reason. The wines are spectacular, as is the restaurant and onsite chocolate shop. Last year the Estate also opened a boutique, luxury hotel and Australia’s largest Aboriginal Art Gallery, located in the basement of their iconic tower.
With a long history dating back to 1836, it’s the perfect spot to spend a few hours (or stay the night) exploring and tasting at the cellar door. Here too, Chief Winemaker Andrew Santarossa and the team work in harmony with the unique soil getting the best from each block to create distinctive and award-winning wines.
Wine By Sam
Boutique winery Wine By Sam’s cellar door, once a dyeworks in the 40s, is in nearby Seymour. Owned by a husband and wife team, it’s still relatively young at 25 years old, but has been creating some tasty drops. Award-winning ones at that.
Nowadays, where giant wool looms once took up residence, there’s a sleek interior where you can relax, enjoy the wines on offer and get some nibbles too.
Ruffy Produce Store
Quirky country general store Ruffy Produce Store has been a local favourite since it was built over a decade ago. Simply put, it doesn’t get more local than this so stock up before you head home.
Today, weekenders come from far and wide to enjoy the café, shop and art exhibitions frequently held in the gallery. It’s the perfect place to snuggle up in winter with some hearty fare in from of the fireplace and in summer you’ll find locals enjoying their lunch under the oversized oak trees.
Visit their website to find out what upcoming events and exhibitions are on as well as what’s on the menu.
(Lead image: Fowles Wine / supplied)
Published 07 August, 2019